Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The 50 Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

Here at Paste’s blog, this: The 50 Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

Problems with this list:

a) It is too long. Fifty is just too big a number.

b) It was compiled thus: We’ve gathered Paste editors and writers to compile a list of our favorite books in the genre…

So you don’t mean best, then. You’re saying popular. Or maybe Our personal favorites. Neither of those strikes me as the same thing, but this We Liked It, So We Included It criterion does explain —

c) Some of these choices are just peculiar. Why on Earth would you pick out Spindle’s End by McKinley? I mean, seriously? That’s your pick? Four other books of hers came out this century, not counting Pegasus, which was half a book. Spindle’s End was not without charm, but really?

d) You list two Game of Thrones books and two Harry Potter books. Also two books by Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Pratchett, NK Jemisin. For heaven’s sake, that is just pure laziness. Can’t you stretch far enough to fill out this list without depending on such pointless repetition?

e) I personally found a few of these books seriously flawed and I loathed others that were successful at what they were trying to do, so obviously your list is faulty. Plainly I should in the future be given veto power over all titles included in every such list.

…All right, maybe (e) is going a little far. I am not ambitious enough to try creating this kind of list, plus I’m under no illusions about whether I read broadly enough to have any hope of picking out the very best titles anyway (even if that weren’t inevitably a personal judgment).

I have never yet gotten to Patrick Rothfuss. The Name of the Wind has the distinction of possibly having been on my TBR shelves the very longest. Any number of people have pushed me to read it. One day, one day. I’ve read a good many of the rest of these, though. Here are the ones I think may well belong on a list of Best Of The Century (So Far):

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill by Clarke

2. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Valente

3. Night Watch by Pratchett

4. The King of Attolia by MWT (Or would you all pick The Queen of Attolia?)

The others I either haven’t read or thought sufficiently flawed that I wouldn’t put them on such a list. If you’re interested, you can click through and see what you think.

I listened to Clarke’s book on audio and I don’t imagine I will ever feel inclined to repeat the experience. Loooong and slow. I sort of enjoyed it, but really I only found myself engaged right at the end. However, I think it’s extremely impressive. Similarly, I personally didn’t really care for The Girl Who. But I admire it. Night Watch is imo the very best of Pratchett’s books. And The King of Attolia actually is my pick from that series, though I think a lot of people would select Queen as their favorite.

What else occurs to me as an obvious choice for a FIFTY BEST list? Let me think about that…

I’m expecting some pushback for any choices ever made for such a list, but I would be inclined to select (in no particular order):

5. A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear.

6. Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip. I’d entertain other titles rather than this one, but — not to be judgmental here — your list is a total failure if it doesn’t include a title by McKillip.

7. Declare by Tim Powers. Again, your list may as well pack up and go home if it doesn’t include something by Tim Powers — even though he’s not a great personal favorite, I can perfectly well tell that his books are very impressive.

8. Sunshine by Robin McKinley

9. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

10. The Curse of Chalion by LMB

11. The Goblin Emperor by “Katherine Addison”

12. Powers by James Burton

There, that’s an even dozen, so I’ll stop there. Argh, no I won’t:

13. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

14. Archivist Wasp by Kornher-Stace

Now I feel like I need a fifteenth just to bring this list to a conclusion, but I’m drawing a blank.

15. ???

I can see that this list started skewing toward Rachel’s Personal Favorites, but whatever. I think everything here is genuinely better, more interesting, more worthy of note, and more successful for what it was trying to do than almost any of the picks on Paste’s list. I would be happy to defend my picks against all comers.

What one title would you pick out for #15? Remember, you’ve got to pick something published this century.

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10 Comments The 50 Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

  1. Elaine T

    Scorpio Races, perhaps? by whatshername that I can’t spell.

    WINTER of ICE & IRON, maybe. It was very good, but needs to age a bit to really tell.

    There might be others that come to mind eventually, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been blown away, except by those two.

    Personally, I disrecommend Rothfuss, BTW. I was originally caught by the narrative voice of his first, but it wore out partway through the book and as a person the narrator was unlikeable. Besides, I remember he said he had all three ready to go, and #3 hasn’t come out yet, and he’s working on other stuff.

  2. Rachel

    Ooh, Scorpio Races! Yes, that was excellent. Maggie Stiefvater.

    I was too modest to put WINTER on that list, but frankly I’m pretty pleased with it, so I’m glad you mentioned it.

    I hear all kinds of things about The Name of the Wind, so when I do eventually read it, I think my expectations should be in line with reality.

  3. SarahZ

    I’d second scorpio races.
    Maybe Going Bovine by Libba Bray, also?

    Harry Potter is influential and popular, but I wouldn’t put it on a best of list for adults.

    I’m not sure I read enough of the books everyone goes crazy over to do a list like this….

  4. Rachel

    Haven’t read Going Bovine — I guess I should add it to my radar, if not necessarily my actual TBR pile.

    I agree about Harry Potter.

    No one else has either! I think 100% of the people who claim to are delusional.

  5. Mary Anne

    Emma Bull hasn’t released anything lately, but either “Bone Dance” or “War for the Oaks”. Each of her books is so different from the others, but all are awesome.

  6. Rachel

    I only read Bone Dance once, but I am inclined to add it to the list. It tried to do some pretty ambitious things and I think pulled them off pretty well, but I should re-read it and see what I think now. I loved War for the Oaks! But of the two, I’d probably go for Bone Dance.

  7. mona

    I just googled “best books 20th century”, and most of those I avoided or didn’t like. So my personal favorites are probably never going to make it.

    That said, the ones I would consider from the original list: Lirael, Mistborn, Uprooted, The Name of the Wind, The King of Attolia, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (I know, sorry, but I love it).

    It hasn’t even been twenty years, and there’s a lot of good work out there.

  8. Rachel

    Sometimes I feel I should really drop everything and try the Mistborn series. But, well, so many books, so little time.

    Harry Potter really is a great series, mostly.

  9. Pam

    Hi Rachel, I just found your blog today and I am enjoying it. I can’t add to this awesome discussion but I am very happy to have learned a few new titles to check out. I find it very hard to find quality work these days. There are plenty of interesting (short and often shallow) books that I read but I would like all that awesome excitement plus the quality of books we used to get.
    I came to your blog originally to read your sunshine review. I loved sunshine but robin always leaves me feeling half finished… I am not sure I will read anymore of her works. Except in all likelihood to reread the blue sword, which I have lived since I was 14, but also felt like it was too short.

  10. Rachel

    Pam, thanks for commenting! I agree that Robin McKinley always feels like she stopped a book shy of the real ending to whatever story. We REALLY need sequels to Sunshine and Shadows, not to mention, sigh, Pegasus. I’ve about given up on her ever finishing that one.

    If you like McKinley, though, then do keep track of the comments here — especially if you also like Patricia McKillip and other authors mentioned in this post. A lot of my current favorite books come from recommendations from my commenters.

    Books not mentioned in this post or comments, but that you might look at — Bone Gap by Laura Ruby; Archivist Wasp by Kornher-Stace; Dead Rivers trilogy by Naomi Kritzer — those are some of my real favorites from the past couple of years. The last one has been out for a while but I only read it recently. Great trilogy.

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